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Sun, 29 November 2020

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Marcus Rashford Shared Our Cafe's Free School Meals Offer After Parliament's Vote. Here's Why We Felt We Had To Do Something.

Marcus Rashford Shared Our Cafe's Free School Meals Offer After Parliament's Vote. Here's Why We Felt We Had To Do Something.

Aubergine Cafe in West Kirby, Wirral.

Andrew Mahon

3 min read

In response to Marcus Rashford's campaign to extend free school meals, small hospitality businesses have stepped up to feed local children vulnerable to food poverty. The owner of Aubergine Café, Andrew Mahon, explains why.

On Thursday afternoon, the day after Parliament's vote on free school meals, we posted to our business Facebook page:

“We know many of you will share our belief that there are no circumstances when it is acceptable for children to fall victim to food poverty. If you’re concerned a child you know may go hungry over the school half-term holiday, Aubergine is offering a free sandwich for any local child eligible for free school meals.”

The pandemic has not been kind to our small café and revenues have plummeted since the Liverpool City Region was placed into the strictest Tier 3 restrictions. Though we’ve managed to keep all our staff employed, we’re only able to offer reduced hours.

Unlike in March and April, we’re now well and truly fatigued by the relentless and inescapable uncertainty offered by the pandemic. It's evident that if we’re to see the back of Covid-19, we need to rely upon each other to do the right thing - socially distance and self-isolate when requested. If we fail to do so, we know the virus is again ready and waiting to surge.

If Parliament won’t act, the people will.

Within 24 hours of posting our message to Facebook, it had been seen by 75,000 people and shared nearly 1,000 times, including by Marcus Rashford. We received an endless stream of offers from across the country, with people generously wanting to donate their time and money to help out. As a result, next week during half-term, Aubergine will provide over 500 meals to children vulnerable to food poverty.

The arguments against providing free school meals appear to have revolved around two general themes:

“Don’t have kids if you can’t afford them.” Putting the blame on parents for not having the absolute clarity of foresight years in advance to see a pandemic coming. The second, "we've already given them enough." The argument that kids shouldn't be hungry during school holidays if we've already fed them during term time.

The clear conclusion in both cases: snatch from parents the dignity of being able to feed their own kids.

Once this is all over, we as a country will be able to look back at how we reacted to the adversity presented by the pandemic. The votes of our elected representatives in Parliament suggest this to be a miserly and mean-spirited country, willing to "balance the books" by saving relative pennies by refusing to adequately feed the nation’s poorest children. The response to our Facebook post proves quite the opposite; the British public is caring and compassionate and all too ready and willing to answer calls for help.

Earlier this year the government claimed it would "do whatever it takes" to save the country from the worst of the pandemic. Regrettably that now appears to have been forgotten. In their place countless small hospitality businesses, like Aubergine, will step in this half-term to ensure our community's children won't go hungry during a national health emergency.

If Parliament won’t act, the people will.

Andrew Mahon is the owner of Aubergine Cafe based in West Kirby, Wirral. He has donated his fee for this piece to The Wirral Foodbank.

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